A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE SEPTEMBER, 2006 REGENSBURG LECTURE
In his Regensburg lecture, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI asserts that true religion that is consistent with the will of God is also one that comports with our God given reason and with the “Word” or “Logos” as it is referred to in the New Testament. At the same time, reason by itself is incomplete without Biblical faith.
Religious conviction that is incompatible with reason is unacceptable. Benedict points out that, for example, religious notions that advocate conversion primarily through war do not comport with reason and cannot be considered as completely valid. Benedict’s discussion concerning a 14th century dialogue contrasting Christianity and Islam, which stirred great controversy at the time of Benedict’s 2006 lecture, is worth quoting [footnotes omitted]:
Thus the emperor’s key argument is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The emperor was a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy and philosophical inquiry. By contrast, in Muslim teaching, God is transcendent. His will is not abound up in any of our categories, even that of rationality.
The notion that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature is not only a Greek idea, it is also intrinsically true. The perspective of Greek philosophical inquiry is also consistent with the Biblical understanding of faith in God. John began the words of his Gospel, “in the beginning was the [Logos].” It turns out that “Logos” is the very word used by the emperor Manuel II in his dialogue with his Persian counterpart.
Christian worship is worship in accord with the eternal Word and with our reason. The convergence between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history. “Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the east, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe.” In fact, “this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.”
While it is true that faith cannot completely discard reason, it is also true that reason is incomplete without Biblical faith. The new possibilities open to humanity as a result of modern science are promising, but there are also dangers arising from these possibilities. In order to avoid these dangers, reason and faith must come together in a new way since technological development requires moral restraint. “[T]heology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.”
“Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.” In the West, it is widely believed that only positivistic reason and philosophies based on it are universally valid. But the world’s cultures are based upon religion. Reason which is divorced from the divine and “which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.” Modern scientific reason and its methodology has to be based upon the belief in the rational structure of matter, as well as the belief that there is a correspondence between our spirit and the rational structures of nature. But to explain why this is so we must look to theology and philosophy. The insights and experiences of the Christian faith are therefore a source of knowledge that should not be ignored by science. The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality. It will suffer great harm if it continues to do so.
As the erudite emperor Manuel II noted, “not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God.” It is to this great Logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures.
[there was a] dialogue carried on . . . by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam . . . The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qu’ ran. . . .
In the seventh conversation . . . the emperor touches on the theme of holy war. . . [The emperor] addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith that he preached.” The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God,” he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably . . . is contrary to God’s nature. . . .Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats . . . To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death . . . .”